Bioethics ISSN 0269-9702 (print); 1467-8519 (online)
RESPONSE HOMEOPATHY IS UNSCIENTIFIC AND UNETHICAL KEVIN SMITH
Keywords homeopathy, alternative medicine, complementary medicine, CAM
ABSTRACT In opposition to the premises of Against Homeopathy – a Utilitarian Perspective, all four respondents base their objections on the central claims that homeopathy is in fact scientifically plausible and is supported by empirical evidence. Despite ethical aspects forming the main thrust of Against Homeopathy, the respondents’ focus on scientific aspects represents sound strategy, since the ethical case against homeopathy would be weakened concomitant with the extent to which any plausibility for homeopathy could be demonstrated. The trouble here is that the respondents are attempting to perpetuate a sterile debate. The notion that homeopathic preparations could have any biological effects represents a fringe viewpoint, one not entertained by serious scientists nor supported by reason and evidence. In the present article, I shall endeavour to explain why the respondents do not have a valid case. I will deal firstly with their general approach to scientific plausibility and evidence, and then consider some of the specific claims they have made. Finally, I will answer the philosophical arguments some of the respondents have raised.
HOMEOPATHIC THEORY IS IMPLAUSIBLE In Against Homeopathy, I pointed out how astonishing it would be if homeopathic preparations had any direct biological effects, considering that the dilution process inherent in homeopathy makes it statistically unlikely that even one single molecule of the original ‘active’ substance will be present in most homeopathic doses. To deal with this fact, two competing explanations may be employed: either [a] homeopathic ‘medicines’ simply cannot have effects beyond placebo, and any claimed effects therefore ought to be attributed to observation errors or spurious ‘noise’ in experimental data; or [b] apparent homeopathic effects must be real and therefore the logico-scientific conclusion that absent molecules cannot produce biological effects ought to be rejected. Explanation [a] is demanded on logical grounds; it is the simplest of the two explanations to fit the observed
data and, in contrast to explanation [b], does not require that fundamental rules of science and reason be overturned. However, it is clear that all four respondents subscribe to explanation [b], and this leads these authors into dubious territory. Several of the respondents, in their letters in this issue and also in other published works, posit various complex models and claimed scientific phenomena to try to explain how homeopathic preparations may exert biological effects. However, these proffered explanations amount merely to ad hoc attempts to manoeuvre around the central problem: namely that it would be incredible to suppose that absent molecules could exert any effects at all. The authors deploy complex scientific concepts and elaborate terminology, including ‘systemic networks’, ‘complex information’, ‘neuro-immuno-endocrine homeodynamics’, ‘chaotic dynamics’, ‘energy field’ and ‘inductive-idiographic’; however, the posited hypotheses of homeopathic action have no scientific validity. I would
Address for correspondence: Dr. Kevin Smith, Abertay University – Contemporary Sciences, Baxter Building Dundee Tayside DD1 1HG, UK. Email: [email protected]
Conflict of interest statement: No conflicts declared © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.
assert that such use of authoritative-sounding concepts and terminology, with no underlying substance, represents a form of obfuscation and locates these homeopathic hypotheses firmly within the domain of pseudoscience.
THERE IS NO CREDIBLE EVIDENCE FOR HOMEOPATHY A se